The top executives at 12 of the world’s biggest oil and gas producers committed this week to stepped-up measures to all but eliminate methane emissions from their upstream operations by the end of the decade.

The Oil & Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) consortium launched an initiative that the group said commits its member companies to aim for zero methane emissions by 2030 and encourages the wider industry to meet the target.

Cutting emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas “represents one of the best short-term opportunities for contributing to climate change mitigation and for advancing the goals of the Paris Agreement”, OGCI said.

The new initiative calls for companies to implement techniques to avoid methane venting and flaring, detect and repair leaks, and report “annually and transparently” on emissions.

Speaking at the CERAWeek by S&P Global conference in Houston on Wednesday, OGCI executive committee chair Bjorn Otto Sverdrup said the idea was for the industry to regard methane emissions with the same gravity that it does safety and oil spills.

“We believe that virtually all methane emissions from the oil and gas industry can and should be avoided,” said Sverdrup, who is also head of corporate sustainability at Norway’s Equinor.

OGCI claims its member companies — Saudi Aramco, BP, Chevron, China National Petroleum Corporation, Eni, Equinor, ExxonMobil, Occidental, Petrobras, Repsol, Shell and TotalEnergies — have reduced their aggregate absolute methane emissions by 30% in the past five years and remain committed to an earlier methane intensity target of below 0.2% by 2025.

The group said it will be reviewing its shared targets in light of the new zero emissions initiative.

“The implications of this are huge,” Sverdrup said.

“We know that, from a climate perspective, getting coal out of electricity production is important. Stopping the burning of tropical rainforest is important. But up there among the most important immediate climate actions is to eliminate methane emissions from the industry.

“This (initiative) will take a very clear line in the sand that could propel action.”

Muqsit Ashraf, lead of the energy industry sector at Accenture, also addressing the CERAWeek audience, said addressing methane is “low-hanging fruit” for the industry, given the availability of technologies to address the problem.

The OGCI pledge of zero emissions is significant, he said, “because methane is something that you actually cannot capture back from the air or cannot be absorbed by trees”.

“So it’s important to have that direct reduction of methane, which this (initiative) that’s been laid out has put in place.”

The initiative’s goal of getting commitments from the wider industry could be a challenge, however.

Ashraf said: “OGCI comprises of 12 companies. There’s more than 4000, or just about 4000, operators in North America alone. And a majority of them have minimal to no commitments or pledges or ambitions in place. So, we have to think about the overall landscape in terms of bringing the entire industry together.”

Matt Kolesar, chief environmental scientist with ExxonMobil, said the US supermajor supports global methane regulations on top of “voluntary” efforts such as OGCI’s.

“Everyone knows methane is an issue,” Kolesar said. “Everyone wants pragmatic and practical solutions. Even with that, it's going to take time.

“I think these voluntary initiatives are very important. But at the end of the day, the world needs strong, robust regulation.”